Oh so this one took a bit of arm twisting. Melbourne food stylist Deb Kaloper is just not one for self promotion, being in the spotlight, or blowing her own trumpet (quite the opposite actually). She’s more of a behind-the-scenes kind of girl – a little bit shy, even. But I am SO glad I persisted because really… food styling just doesn’t get more delectably perfect than this, does it?
I first met the lovely Deb K on a shoot with the equally fabulous Megan Morton… talk about dream team! I watched as Deb unpacked a car full of wonderous treats – cheeses and crispbreads and crackers with garnishes I had never laid eyes on, icy drinks in eye-popping bright summery hues, home-baked sweet treats that would give Martha a run for her money… it was immediately clear to me that Deb K was capable of beautifying any edible item you could think of. And without an assistant, even!
Deb has worked with many of Australia’s greatest and most respected imagemakers for various local and international publications – photographers and stylists including Sharyn Cairns, Mark Roper, John Laurie, Glen Proebstel and Megan of course. What is amazing about Deb is she’s truly so modest and just ridiculously self-deprecating – despite her incredible body of work, I think Deb is genuinely convinced she’s an ‘imposter’, just waiting to be found out!? Clearly this is INSANE!! Deb’s work speaks for itself – her attention to detail and encylopedic knowledge of all things culinary makes for picture-perfect shots time after time after time. Under Deb’s watchful eye, each cherry glistens, each chicken wing ends up encrusted with the perfect layer of oozing golden goo.. and even a simple blanched cabbage becomes an effortless work of art. She really is a magician in the kitchen.
I feel so lucky to be able to share Deb’s stunning work with you here… I think this could very well be her first and last interview! I hope you love her work as much as I do. :)
Deb Kaloper is represented by KHM in Melbourne.
Tell me a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to food styling?
I’m originally from southern California and studied Psychology at UCLA, (University of California at Los Angeles). But before graduating, I really wanted to travel and study somewhere else. I had a surfie friend who raved about Australia and was convinced that I needed to experience the country and the people. So I applied as an exchange student and studied at Melbourne University. He was right, it was love at first sight, (with a boy and the country!) and so I moved to Melbourne.
I worked in a few jobs with my degree, but I always dabbled in hospitality, because I love food and coffee, and the whole social café scene. I got pulled into the kitchen one day when the chef asked if I could make some chocolate chip cookies and brownies, since I was an American! (I think he was being a bit cheeky!).
I told him that I got my first cookbook at the age of 4 from my Nonie (Croatian for grandmother) and that I actually could bake. So I was in the kitchen and there I stayed, and I loved it! I worked in a few cafes until a trip to Europe changed my thinking… I was standing in front of a patisserie window, in Paris, staring at the most amazingly beautiful looking rhubarb galette. I know that sounds weird, but it was just sooo beautiful & perfect, and I knew that I wanted to make beautiful things, (ok maybe I was just a bit super inspired by all of Paris, and Amsterdam and Milan, and Barcelona…. but I knew I wanted to take things up a notch).
I returned to Melbourne and worked as the pastry chef at Luxe. That was an incredible experience. We worked so insanely hard, and had such long and crazy hours, but I learned a lot and worked with incredibly talented and professional people like Simon Denton (Verge & Izakaya Den), Chefs Rita Macali, (Ladro & Supermaxi) and Karen White, (Verge). I burned out after a year or so, a few years later I was lucky enough to work again with Rita when she opened Ladro in Gertrude Street Fitzroy.
It was there that I met Danish Photographer Mikkel Vang and Stylist Christine Rudolph. They asked me if I would be interested in cooking for some of their shoots…… it was one of those lighting bolt awakenings and path changing experiences! Things evolved from there!
Who are some favourite people and/or publications you have worked with?
I have been genuinely lucky to work with such a variety of super talented chefs, stylists and photographers, so I’ll just name a few… besides having specific talents, all of them are truly fantastic people to work with! Daniel Chirico because he embodies true Artisan qualities in his bread making and his generous spirit, Louis Vaussenat, he is the most humble pastry chef, so giving of his knowledge and is a master of his craft! Justine Poole and Steve Pearce from Donna Hay Magazine; I really admire their ability to reinterpret the “everyday” into something inspired and beautiful. They blew me away when I worked with them!
Christine Rudolph for her light touch with earthy depths, she always has the perfect prop! David Morgan for his seemingly effortless style, which just flows out of him and which actually takes a lot of effort and style to achieve, he makes it look so easy! Glen Proebstel for his rich, layered moodiness, his work can make me gasp! Lisa Cohen for her gentle yet really warm light in her photos, they seem to invite you into them. Sharyn Cairns for going to the moody dark side and always getting the shot. Mark Roper for his ease and humour and beautiful light! John Laurie for his cool, raw realism.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Coffee starts the day, and then it can go anywhere from there! I might be propping, op shopping, grocery shopping, going to the market for inspiration, hauling props from shop to home to studio to home to shop again, writing recipes, cooking, shooting, researching through magazines and books… but washing dishes always seems to be involved!
Where do you turn for creative inspiration – travel, local and international magazines, books or the web etc?
I find inspiration in just about everything. A walk along the beach, or through the Local Community Veg Out Gardens, a trip to the Market for a quick “look” has me there for hours and carrying home way too much produce!
I love getting lost in art galleries and book stores, listening to music, scouting op shops, eating in a great café, restaurant or bar …the list is endless. I watched To Kill a Mockingbird, (again) the other night, and while it has nothing to do with food whatsoever, the opening title scene is brilliant, and has really inspired me for an upcoming shoot.
But travelling is my favourite thing ever, for all the obvious reasons – ‘discovery’, seeing new places, faces and cultures, and for the challenges that can present themselves. It’s the best feeling to get on a plane or a boat and know that everything will be new and different on the other side.
I found American Gourmet Magazine to be the most inspiring food magazine. It took risks with it’s storytelling styling and the moodiness of the photography. I LOVED IT! I was lucky enough to show them my folio on a trip to NYC, and had hoped to be able to do something, anything, with them, but sadly they closed about 3 weeks later…. devastating!!
Which other stylists, photographers or other creative people do you admire?
Alastair Hendy & Heidi Swanson are two people that I think are quite amazing! Both are photographers, stylists and cooks who do everything themselves… their style and food are completely different yet I really admire their ability to wear all the hats so well.
And well, Martha Stewart and her team of talented people are truly great at what they do.
The list could go on for ages…….
What is the best thing about your job?
The freedom that comes with being a freelance stylist is defiantly something that I love, it seems to suit my gypsy spirit, but the ability to work together with others and the goal being to make something visually beautiful, that’s what I really love.
The bottom line is that I just want to make beautiful pictures.
And the worst?
In the scheme of things, nothing! I feel so very lucky to do this for a ‘job’….it’s a dream job!
What would be your dream creative project?
I have a few, but I have been dreaming one up for a while now… a few months spent in Croatia, writing, cooking, and shooting a cookbook filled with family recipes, on the Island where my Dad was born.
Do your friends and family expect perfection at your dinner table!?
There is no perfection here! They usually have to drink a bottle of bubbles while waiting for the meal, I always seem to be running a bit late when I have guests over, or maybe it’s just an excuse to have a long drink before dinner?
All of my family lives overseas, and I am at their tables when I am with them, and that is perfect!
Oh this wonderful photo just looks a bit sad at 520 pixels wide. You really need to see it big and beautiful! Anyway take my word for it. Amazing. Pic by Armelle Habib, food styling by Deb Kaloper.
What are you looking forward to?
Going home to California for a summer visit, (very soon), seeing all my family and friends and hiking the Trans Catalina Trail on Santa Catalina Island with my youngest brother, Tony.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I do love Albert park, for the Albert Park book store, the back courtyard at Husk, the library where I seem to spent a lot of time, Empire Vintage, Garden of Eden Nursery, Zacher Antiques and the St. Vincent Gardens…it’s a great park to ‘stop’ in.
What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
Cicciolina in St. Kilda is always my favourite, I am never disappointed!
The shitake mushroom risotto with truffle oil is my favourite meal.
Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools of your trade?
I love wandering up and down the isles at Minh Phat, they have everything you want and didn’t know you wanted until you saw it.
I also love the Queen Victoria Market, and the Saturday Farmer’s Markets.
Where would be find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Having a coffee and reading the papers at Melbourne’s best kept secret.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
I reeeeallly don’t want to share this because then I won’t get a table, but they are too good and deserved to be shared….. Ms Jackson, a café on the corner of Jackson and Grey Streets in St. Kilda. Food, coffee, the fire place on wintery mornings and the people are all amazing! And I’m not sure if this is a secret or not, but Louis’s chocolate cake at Baker D. Chirico is the best I’ve ever had!